Minestrone and Waffles

So today, with the climate change issue solved, I was free to start the vacation-like period of my trip to Copenhagen.

So as to not further exacerbate said climate change I decided to forgo my “lunch in Berlin, dinner in Geneva, breakfast in Zagreb” gallivanting plans and stay here in Copenhagen. Not much of a punishment, Copenhagen being as Copenhagen is.

Priority one this morning was to find coffee: after two days of weak filtered mud here at the hotel, I needed my coffee strong and well-prepared, and there is no better place for that in this neighbourhood than Ricco’s. So after a quick coffee-free breakfast at the hotel I walked up to Istedgade and had a heartbreakingly wicked espresso macchiato.

Fueled, I was was ready to head out on the town: destination Brede Værk, a newly reconditioned museum of Denmark’s industrial past. Getting there required an S-Train ride followed by a quick hop on a weird sort of forest trolley to the Brede station.  In doing so I traveled from the heart of urban Copenhagen into a leafy post-industrial idyll.

Brede Værk, like all Danish museums I’ve visited, was well-organized, typographically dreamy, and with architecture as interesting as exhibitions. The only weak point was that, by renovating the old industrial buildings into contemplative, beautiful, whitewashed spaces, telling the “factory life in the last century could be a living hell” story was somewhat weakened. It’s hard to believe stories of lint-filled air and productivity-obsessed bosses when you’re walking around an air-conditioned hall where you could eat off the floor and quite happily move right in if the opportunity presented.

That all said, they did do justice to the complexities of factory life in a way usually absent from technical museums: the “factory floor” exhibit, all jazzed up with barcode-activated movie shows, told parallel stories of director, manager, shop steward, and veteran and new employees and the conflicts there-between: a considerable improvement over the simple “giant steam engines are amazing” one finds elsewhere.

After touring the factory and related exhibits on industrialism in Denmark I toured the grounds (that include a clock tower with the clock purposefully set to 7 minutes to 7, apparently with some sort of inspirational purpose — “it’s always about time to go to work”?) and spotted a sign pointing to “Frilandsmuseet” up the hill.  Curious, I headed up the road, past a school and a parking lot, and found myself at the secret back entrance to the “Open Air Museum.” 

A signpost said I was welcome to enter, as admission is free.  So I did.

And immediately found myself in 1850s rural Denmark.  Alone with the horses, and left free to wander in and out of myriad relocated farm buildings from places all over the country.  I literally didn’t see another person for the first 30 minutes of my visit, and not having gone through any entry formalities, and not having a map, I felt a little bit like a member of a time-traveling Star Trek landing party.

Frilandsmuseet is huge, it turns out, with over 100 buildings, ranging from tiny houses to windmills to water-powered grist mills. There is pleasantly little “interpretation” — it’s limited to a single, subtle plaque outside each farm — and so it really does feel like rambling around in the past than anything like “learning.” There are animals and, eventually, gaggles of kindergarten children right out of central casting for “cute Danish children.”

I had lunch, I toured some more, and then found my way back to the forest trolley and headed back downtown.

One of my favourite things to do in Copenhagen, indeed one of my favourite things to do, period, is to visit my friend Luisa’s parents in the suburb of Valby: they are warm, generous, witty hosts and I always emerge well-fed and well-engaged. Tonight was no exception: after a late-afternoon flowers-and-gift shopping expedition I made my way to Valby where I was greeted by a house full of relatives and neighbours to celebrate Luisa’s birthday.

While I was assured this was in no way a “typical Danish birthday meal,” supper was hearty minestrone followed by waffles. (For supper! Waffles!)  Good wine, strong coffee.  A brilliant meal.

Being socially challenged as I am, there’s nothing better than sitting at the heart of a table of Danes speaking Danish: I’m left to exist in a pleasant netherworld, both there and able to observe there, to drop in and participate when the conversation lapses into English but delight in the indecipherable cacophony otherwise.

Happy Birthday was sung.  In English and then its Danish equivalent Fødselsdag sang, a song that involves a lot of references to “hot chocolate and cakes” and much shouting of “Hurra!” and is way, way more fun.

As the night wore down there were stories of “insufficient postage” penalties, bank robberies, wine pricing and construction management techniques, many laughs shared, and then it was time to disappear off into the night.

All and all, an excellent start to a tiny vacation.